Robert Redford Earned a Baseball Scholarship to Colorado, But Became the ‘Campus Drunk’ and Lost It

by Suzanne Halliburton

It’s difficult to believe that Robert Redford, the handsome Academy Award winner, ever led anything but a charmed life.

But if you sift through the archives, you’ll see Redford’s career didn’t start that strong. Well, check, that. The Robert Redford athletic career got sidetracked.

He’s the perfect image of a California man, all blonde and tan. He always looked straight out of an ad for an outdoor magazine. But Redford fled California as soon as he was old enough. He grew up in Santa Monica and Van Nuys, but headed to Rocky Mountain country to play baseball. Robert Redford earned a scholarship to play baseball at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He lasted a year.

 “I became the campus drunk,” Robert Redford told People in 1998. “And blew out before I could ever get going.”

So what does a handsome, athletic, artsy partier do when he abruptly leaves college? Robert Redford headed to Europe. He painted for a year, then headed back to Los Angeles. That’s where he met a young bank teller named Lola Van Wagenen. They lived in the same apartment complex. The two married in 1958 and headed to New York. Redford was serious again about his studies. So he attended Pratt Institute of Art & Design and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Movie fans started falling in love with Redford when he starred with Jane Fonda in Barefoot in the Park in 1967. He’d also been in the Broadway version of the movie.

By 1969, Robert Redford started his friendship with Paul Newman. The two were in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Redford was Harry Longabaugh, aka the Sundance Kid. Katherine Ross, who eventually married Sam Elliott, also starred in the movie about the good-looking outlaws who loved to rob trains/ They’re on the run from the U.S. authority so they head to South America.

Robert Redford starred in so many more movies we all loved. He appealed to his female fans with The Way We Were. Men loved him as Jeremiah Johnson. And then there was The Sting, when he starred with Newman again. The two played conmen, who grifted and charmed their way through life.

Redford won an Academy Award for best directing for the movie Ordinary People in 1980.

He came full circle with his old university, earning an honorary degree with Colorado in 1988.

And he also got somewhat straight with baseball, starring in The Natural in 1984. The movie was nominated for four Academy Awards.

Robert Redford Overcoming Loss of Son

Redford celebrated his 85th birthday last month. Within the past year, he buried his only living son, James, who died last October at age 58. His first-born son, Scott, died when he was two months old.

Back in 1998, Robert Redford talked about his family. He and his first wife were parents to four children.

 “People think it’s been easy for me,” Redford said. “That’s hard to live with. It’s so untrue. The hardest thing in the world is when your children have problems. There have been so many hits on our family that no one knows about, and I don’t want them to, for my family’s sake.

“I’ve been very satisfied with the work, but if someone wrapped it all up and said to me, ‘What’s your greatest achievement?’ I’d say, ‘The children. They’re the best thing in my life.’ ”